Focus On Youth

The goal of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Marion County is to help participants shape their lives and futures.

Kerriell Jones, April Savarese, Jordan Bryant and Nathan Loveira

An 8-year-old girl with blonde hair peers in disapproval at April Savarese’s self-portrait. 

“You’re making that nose too big!” offers the little girl tiptoeing over the shoulder of Savarese, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Marion County.

Savarese knows she isn’t drawing her nose just right, but her eyes twinkle as she listens to the girl with the big, bright blue eyes, who is brimming with spunk as she instructs her in the fine art of how to use crayons. 

“Your hair is not red,” says the tiny art critic. “You’re using a red crayon—you need to use an orange crayon!”  

The nonprofit provides after-school constructive fun and support for youth ages 6 through 18. On this day, Savarese joins some members of the Stiletto Network, a networking group of the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership, who are touring the facility and checking out the kids-run art program, which is designed to let the youngsters direct the adults. 

“She just took control and was bossing us around, and it was so funny,” Savarese says with a huge smile.

The girl is in her 13th foster home placement. And yet, after a lifetime of change, of floating from home to home, when the school bus drops her off at the Boys & Girls Club campus in Ocala, she bursts through the doors with a bright smile on her face, calling out, “Hey Miss April!” 

“To know that the Boys & Girls Club is her stable place, where everybody knows her name, she feels safe, she feels comfortable, she feels loved and she knows that we’re gonna be there for her, I think that is really a testament to why we’re here…” Savarese says. “Our purpose is to create a safe, enriching environment for kids when they’re not in school so they have that opportunity to be the best version of themselves and be productive members of our community.” 

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Marion County organization has been serving the community since 1967. There are campuses in Silver Springs Shores, Dunnellon and Ocala, which includes both the Dr. H.L. Harrell Sr. Club and the Ocala Teen Center. The organization serves around 1,100 kids a year between the four sites, Savarese says. The campuses offer five core programs: Education and Career Development, Character and Leadership, Health and Life Skills, The Arts and Sports, Fitness and Recreation. 

Jordan Bryant and Kerriell Jones
Wendell Jones, Brentley Pfouts, Natavia Drinks, April Savarese and Henry Freedburg
Darcy Freedburg, Tahliea Street, Eloise Freedburg, Anderson Gomez and Hazel Wertz

The goal is to help participants shape their lives and futures and grow in good character and citizenship, develop healthy lifestyles and attain academic success. 

When the members arrive each day after school, they have free time to play games, socialize and have a snack. Then they move into the program schedule and groups rotate around working on homework and activities such as learning to play basketball or how to use a hula hoop, practicing music or seeing a Taekwondo demonstration.

The cost per child is based on a sliding scale corresponding to the family’s financial need and some children attend at no cost, which is largely made possible by donations from the community. 

Lay’Leoni Davis, Ryniah Tolbert, Aniyah Brown, and Royalty Williams

“Our budget is based on what revenue we drive here,” Savarese explains. “It’s a very common misconception that we are a government funded organization or that we somehow receive funding from the Boys & Girls Club of America.”

Around a third of the local organization’s income comes from grants, another third from the Just Trust foundation and donations, and the final third from fundraising, she outlines. 

The group hosts two main fundraisers each year, including an annual luncheon in the fall. The spring event, coming up on February 10th, for the third year in a row, will be Bourbon in the Barn, which will take place at the College of Central Florida Vintage Farm. 

“It’s a really great time,” Savarese offers. “It’s a beautiful venue.” OS

To learn more about the Boys & Girls Clubs of Marion County, visit bgcofmarion.com or FB.com/bgcofmarion or call (352) 690-7545. For tickets to Bourbon in the Barn, email admin@bgcofmarion.com

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